Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Cook: I heard what my hon. Friend said with interest. I am very pleased that the business statement has given her the opportunity to complete the intervention that she attempted earlier this afternoon. I certainly take a dim view of the conduct in local government that she describes, and I very much hope that the electors of Lincolnshire will find a happier and better outcome in future. [Interruption.] If the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) wants to help to raise standards in local government, the best way for the Conservatives to do so would be to encourage Dame Shirley Porter to return to answer the very grave and serious charges that are still outstanding from the period when she was a senior Conservative leader in London and a close friend of the then Conservative Prime Minister.

Annabelle Ewing (Perth): The Leader of the House will be aware of the concerns that have been raised about the operation of removal centres for asylum seekers, such as Dungavel, but he may not be aware that a cross-party

9 May 2002 : Column 317

delegation is to visit Dungavel a week tomorrow. If concerns arise further to that visit, will he try to find time to ensure that those matters can be debated in the House?

Mr. Cook: I am advised that that delegation will be the third cross-party delegation to visit Dungavel in recent times, which shows the commitment of the authorities to transparency. I understand that there are deep concerns. Indeed, as a Scottish Member, I have seen them expressed in the Scottish press. Opportunities are open to the hon. Lady and her colleagues to raise that matter in the House if they wish to do so—it would seem to be an appropriate issue to pursue in Westminster Hall.

Fiona Mactaggart (Slough): The Leader of the House has been very patient with my frequent questions about the future of the reform of the second Chamber. I am concerned that there are still not very clear smoke signals about where the process is going. I wonder whether we might have a discussion shortly so that we can see the future shape of the Government's proposals and so that hon. Members can discuss them.

Mr. Cook: I am not sure that I can promise smoke signals. I do not really think that they would help us to shed light on the topic. My hon. Friend congratulates me on my patience. She must be patient for a little longer: her patience may not be exhausted.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk): The Leader of the House may recall that I raised the issue of Powderject and the smallpox vaccine last week. Is he aware that there have been some new developments? First, it has been announced that the chief executive officer of Powderject, Paul Drayson, has given another £50,000 to the Labour party.

Secondly, we know that, having paid £32 million by Her Majesty's Government for the contract, Powderject subcontracted the work to Bavarian Nordic for the sum of 17.5 million euros—a profit of £22 million. Bavarian Nordic, however, went on to subcontract the work, as we now know, to IDT, the German company, for less than 10 million euros. In other words, there could have been a saving to the taxpayer of £28 million.

The Leader of the House said last week that it did not matter what Powderject did with the contract having won it. Surely, if we had had an open, competitive tender, we could have gone straight to the east German company and saved £28 million. The Labour party has gained £100,000 out of this and the taxpayer has lost £28 million.

9 May 2002 : Column 318

Mr. Cook: Business questions would not be complete without the hon. Gentleman raising a question about Powderject. I anticipated that he might ask about it again today, and I am in danger of becoming a walking expert on the Powderject contract. First, it was known from the start that Bavarian Nordic would be the company that would receive the work and provide the vaccine. Indeed, right from the start, Bavarian Nordic made it plain that Powderject would be its chosen supplier through the United Kingdom. There is no evidence that the contract would have cost any less had we dealt directly with Bavarian Nordic, had Bavarian Nordic been willing to deal with us.

Secondly, I remind the House that five companies bid for this tender. Of the five, only the Powderject/Bavarian Nordic tender could provide us with the vaccine that we needed in time—by the end of the year. It was on that basis, and solely on that basis, that it won the contract.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): On Select Committee modernisation, which my right hon. Friend mentioned in his statement, will he join me, as a member of the now ubiquitous Public Administration Committee, in welcoming the Prime Minister's historic decision to appear before the Liaison Committee? Does he agree that the House, as much as the Prime Minister, will be under the spotlight when that happens? Does he agree that the Prime Minister appearing in front of a Committee of 34 members does not necessarily show the House in its most modernised light?

Mr. Cook: I appeared, at length, before the Liaison Committee yesterday, and we had a consensual and friendly exchange of views. One of my proposals had been to reduce marginally the size of the Liaison Committee, which I discovered was not welcome with the Liaison Committee, which then produced a report that said that the number of members should stay the same. Yesterday, I accepted its view that it should stay at the same number, and was much entertained that some members of the Liaison Committee immediately expressed disappointment that I had not rejected their recommendations.

This matter is in the hands of the Liaison Committee, and it must address it. I know from exchanges yesterday that it is also conscious that this will be a very high-profile occasion, and that it will also be under the spotlight. It is important that that exchange—which will be significant in improving the accountability of the Government to the House—should go forward with dignity, and there should be a robust but, nevertheless, civilised exchange on the policy issues, of which many Chairs of Select Committees and the Liaison Committee have a detailed knowledge and which they will want to explore in detail.

9 May 2002 : Column 317

9 May 2002 : Column 319

Points of Order

3.3 pm

Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Can you advise me how to correct a false impression given to the House earlier by the hon. Member for Pendle (Mr. Prentice)? I have tried to contact him, but, regrettably, I have not been able to do so in time. The problem arises from an exchange with the Secretary of State for Transport, Local Government and the Regions, and it matters because it touches on the careers of senior public servants in this country who are not able to defend themselves in public and who often serve the country for a very long time and very loyally. They have been dragged into this matter, and the very least that we can do is to quote their words correctly.

I quoted precisely from the record in my question of the Secretary of State. From memory, the hon. Member for Pendle said that the Secretary of the Cabinet had told Sir Richard Mottram to make a personal statement. When I asked the Secretary of the Cabinet, Sir Richard Wilson, whether he had instructed or told Sir Richard Mottram to make a statement, he said:

Clearly, the two men had discussed the matter because they were creating an important precedent for the civil service, but Sir Richard Mottram was not acting on instructions. The problem arises because the Secretary of State chose not to answer the question that I asked. Characteristically, he answered a different question, and that is his problem. We should not, however, drag civil servants into debate in the House in such a way unless we can be very precise. I would like to know if there is any way in which this can be put right.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): That is not a point of order for the Chair, but the hon. Gentleman's comments are now on the record.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In the course of the Deputy Prime Minister's prepared statement, he made a reference to Conservative party policy on devolution of institutions in Northern Ireland that was wholly inaccurate. It is not a matter of debate but a matter of record that the Conservative party supported the Belfast agreement and continues to do so. It therefore continues to support the devolved institutions. Could you advise the House and the Deputy Prime Minister as to what would be the most appropriate way for him to come to the House to correct the record? I hope that that will be an opportunity for the Deputy Prime Minister to set an example to other Ministers.

Madam Deputy Speaker: Again, that is not a point of order but a point of debate. The hon. Gentleman's comments are on record.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. In response to

9 May 2002 : Column 320

me just now, the Leader of the House indicated that he understood that S.I. 843 dealt only with the carcases of animals. That is not the case. Part 5 deals specifically with live animals. The statutory instrument extends the regulations on transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in a way not seen previously. Indeed, some sections deal with the Minister's right, after appeal, to withdraw the notice of intended slaughter. This statutory instrument, which has been put through the House in the most covert way, replicates a large portion of a Bill that lies in another place. The Government therefore felt that primary legislation was needed. I fail to understand why the Government, without proper consultation with the industry or veterinarians, and without proper scrutiny by the House, are now seeking to use the secondary legislation route when, only a few months ago, Ministers told us that they urgently needed to pass the measure through primary legislation. I urge that we have an opportunity to question the Minister responsible before it is too late, and it is past the date by which we have an opportunity to make representations.

Next Section

IndexHome Page